Back from Madison & Indy

What a great trip this was! The folks in Carmel-Indianapolis, Indiana, were so charming and welcoming. An herbal potluck dinner with the herb society's Board, at President, Ann Hathaway's house the night before the "Dilly of a Day" event was fun, with time to get to know people. Then on to the Four Winds School, which I've written about already, over to the National Mustard Museum, then landing in Madison, Wisconsin for the Indianapolis Herb Society's event at Olbrich Botanic Gardens.

Two things made this trip special - the people I met along the way, and the food. (You may recall, I categorize my trips as either, "bad food" or "good food" trips). I've not had a Good Food trip in some time, but this one will be one to remember. Even truck stop food was really good!

I'm considering starting a new blog and it's probably going to be titled, "I love my job," because I keep meeting people in unusual places who tell me they just love their job. Like Jateen Patel, owner of the Comfort Inn, in Hebron, IN. I'd had a bad day, needed a motel with a laundry and reliable internet access. Checked in, only to discover that not only did the laundry not work (soccer team had broken it the night before) but the Wii-Fi also didn't. Both Jateen and Michele, the desk clerk, went beyond their duties to fix things. A brand new hotel, me tired, things not working, could have created an unhappy stay. They fixed everything, quickly. And while visiting with Michele, I heard her say, "I just love my job." When I apologized the next day for being a bit grumpy, she said, "I always say, count the blessings, not the days." Jennifer, the day desk clerk, went out of her way to fax my business papers home. And unfortunately, I've lost their photos!

I spent the day before my "duties" (WORT public radio interview, T.V.-13 interview) in Madison looking around State Street. It's the street that stretches between the Wisconsin State Capitol building (largest in the U.S. except for Washington, DC) over to the University. It's where the famous farmer's market is held each Saturday, and where lots of fun eating places and pubs exist. Walking around, just being a quiet tourist, well past lunch time, I spotted a sign in Wanda's Bar that said, "Voted Best Fish-Fry in Madison." So I went in and took a seat at the bar.

The bartender came over and asked what I'd like. I said I'd like to a plate of fish and some iced tea. He looked a bit quizzical, my assumption being, the iced tea order. I was wrong because he replied, "We don't serve fish on Thursdays." I inquired why, thinking there must be some strange law about fish on Thursdays or something, or that he hadn't understood what I'd asked for.

"Don't know," he said. "Maybe it's to make sure the fish are fresh. It's tradition in Wisconsin to have fish fries on Fridays." I ordered some onion rings to go with my iced tea and about then my friend, Olee, from Spring Fever Greenhouses called me. "Whatcha doin'?" he asked. Sitting in a bar, hoping to find some fish but they only serve it on Fridays, I said. "Well you tell those folks that down here in the Ozarks, we can eat fish 7 days a week!" The bar was quiet and evidently Adam, the bartender overheard our conversation. While I ate the onion rings and drank my iced tea, he was busy at the other end of the bar. Shortly he appeared with a big smile and placed a plate of fish in front of me. "Don't want you to go away from Madison disappointed," he said, "it's on the house." What a kind gesture. I just wanted to call up his mother and tell her what a sweet, thoughtful son she raised.

A very kind fellow, Tom Goodwyn, of the Madison Herb Society, had made my reservation in the Hotel Ruby Marie, with a view of Lake Mendota, just across the street. My room the first night (because I came a day early) was a substitute for the room I had the rest of the time. No complaints, though, it was a suite, with hot tub, living room, fireplace and little bar. Very cool! (And my regular room, next door which ready the following day, was very nice, as well). The Hotel Ruby Marie is an older, renovated, classy hotel with lots of restaurants nearby. So the next person on my list of outstanding people is Joshua, the smiling face of the Hotel Ruby Marie. He was helpful in finding me a room that first night, and saved me considerable embarrassment the following evening. How you may wonder?

I had Thursday night free and asked for a recommendation of an experimental theater that might be fun. He recommended Mercury Rising, downtown, and suggested a the Old Fashioned tavern & restaurant just around the corner from the theater, for dinner. He also told me his favorite thing to order was the pulled pork sandwich. So downtown I went. Streets aren't always marked well, my Garmin navigator led me in circles, but I found the theater and the Old Fashioned restaurant, and more important, parking. I had just enough time to eat and get to the theater for a showing of 8 contest-winning 15 minute comedies. Once inside the Old Fashioned (named for the drink - they offer many variations on the classic drink) rather than wait for a table, I sat at the bar. The place was packed, mostly with college students. The bar was somewhat dark and loud. I suddenly realized I didn't have my glasses when a menu was placed in front of me, and to my embarrassment, I discovered I could not read one single word on the menu. It might as well been in Chinese, even squinting, no recognizable words would appear. What to do? Ask the very busy bartender (there were 6, all in fast motion) to READ the menu to the oldest guy in the place? How embarrassing would THAT be! But just then I remembered what Joshua at the Ruby had said. "Do you have pulled pork tonight?" I asked, just like I was a regular. And that's what I had, and thanks again, Joshua, it was a very good choice and I didn't have to ask the bartender to read to me.

Next on the list - it's long and should be 2 posts, but... was Tom Goodwyn, who picked me up at the hotel, gave me a great tour of Madison, then drove me to my 8 a.m. radio interview on public radio WORT. To both of our surprises, I knew his former partner in Minneapolis, many years ago. We found we had several acquaintances in common. And even more, the Volunteer Outreach Coordinator at Radio WORT, Glenn Mithroff, also knew people I know from years ago. What a small world! Tom was a delightful host, showing me the botanic garden, Lazy Jane's Bakery for breakfast and Tom will be a long time friend, I'm certain.

Then there's Marge Synder, president of the Madison Herb Society. What a sweetheart! She took me to lunch at her favorite Thai restaurant and we visited about her world travels and mine. She's a very talented chef and author of several outstanding cookbooks. She hosted the Board of the herb society for a dinner in my honor at her home and it was great fun. She's prepared pizza crusts in advance and when we arrived, served us rosemary cosmopolitans to sip while we prepared the pizzas. She divided the 10 of us into little groups, gave us recipes and a pizza crust and said, "get to work." I always think that working on a project in the kitchen is one of the very best ways to get to know people and this proved it.

The pizzas were Marge's own concoctions and I wish I'd kept the recipes she handed us when we went to work. She teaches cooking classes, so following her instructions were easy. One of my favorite pizzas had shrimp, mozzarella, chopped cilantro and mint, green onions. Another was sausage, mushrooms and I think, walnuts. Another was caramelized onions and goat cheese. They were all fantastic and we had a delightful evening.
And since herb groups always eat well, the Madison H.S. had a brunch for about 60 people on the day of my program. Herb people go all out for food, and the offerings from the members were incredible. I tried really hard but could not find one single dish I didn't like! The Shiitake-Ramp quiche (ramps are wild leeks) was outstanding, so were the egg salad sandwiches, the salads and desserts, all herb based and all waaay too delicious.

My program, Eat Your Landscape, was well attended and held in Olbrich Botanic Garden's educational rooms. Olbrich is a city park, but what a delightful place, well designed, very popular place to visit by locals and beyond. It will stand proudly beside any botanic garden anywhere.

More to come.....


Meteorites Miss Mustard Museum

Meteorite hunting has gripped southern Wisconsin and northern Iowa. It seems the meteor that zipped across the sky lighting up people's hopes for UFO sightings on April 14, broke apart over the 2 counties bordering the Iowa-Wisconsin line. School children have been out hunting them, one girl having sold her fist-sized meteorite for $1,000 and Discovery Channel folks filming documentaries on local farms. I grew up just a few miles away from a meteor crater, known as the Weaubleau-Osceola Meteor, but missed it's falling to earth by about 300 millions years or so. That one, whose crater is about 11 miles wide can be seen with Google Earth, and from outer space, (look in West-Central Missouri near the Osage River) still holds fascination for rock people. But the meteorites, which are pieces of meteors, fell in Wisconsin and have more people out hunting for them than you'd find looking for morel mushrooms (which aren't up yet, according to locals).

Before leaving Chicago, I made a stop at Ikea. I have great fun in Ikea and go there when Josh isn't traveling with me. He calls Ikea a "Danish Wal-Mart" and says their offerings are cheap and poorly made. I agree, especially in the electronics area. We've had several lamps from there that either didn't work, had parts missing, or replacements could only be had from Denmark. But I like the stylishness of their hardware and kitchen items and don't miss an opportunity to spend a few hours looking and shopping (and yes, I bought another lamp - I buy lottery tickets, too). It takes hours of walking to see an entire store.

Two nights ago I drove to Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, from the Chicago area to spend the night and be up early the next morning to visit the famous National Mustard Museum. A Google search said it was in Mt. Horeb, the motel owner where I stayed verified it was just downtown from the motel. So for the evening I went out hunting for a dinner restaurant and found the Grumpy Troll, which sounded like my kind of place. Not that I've ever been called grumpy, but I can appreciate good grumpiness when I find it. It was a good choice, having a wonderfully grumpy-descriptive menu and about a dozen kinds of beers and ales from their micro-brewery. (It made me think of the Grumpy Gardener, aka Steve Bender at Southern Living, who is truly, grumpy most of the time and his grumpiness flies well on his blog, check it out if you haven't yet; tell him I sent you, it'll make him even grumpier). I tried one made with jalapeno peppers but opted for something called, "Bob's Better Beer" or something like that.

The following morning I got up, repacked the truck to make room for possible plants at a nursery I'd passed, and headed out looking for the famous National Mustard Museum. After lots of searching and asking, I found the museum had moved. Not just down the block, but to the outskirts of Madison, in Middleton. I headed that way, inquiring as I went if anyone knew where the museum had moved. All in all, a day, a night and many hours later, I finally found the elusive National Mustard Museum. I admit I was a bit underwhelmed. It looked like just another tourist store, filled with mustard. Evidently they've not been there very long, a few months. With some snooping around I found a little arrow pointing to the basement and the museum. I brightened some, at finding there was, after all an actual museum of mustards, not just a sales area.

I found there were antique mustard containers, categorized by state and country. I found several mustards that were made in my state of Missouri, a selection from Arkansas and lots of mustards from Wisconsin, and every other state, too. There were several displays of antique mustard advertising art from the '20s and up, some of which was quite interesting.

When I returned upstairs and went back to browsing the mustards, I saw that many of the recent Napa Valley Mustard competition winners were displayed. About then, the two ladies who were running the museum offered me some tastes and help. For the next 20 minutes or so, we had a fine and amusing mustard tasting. Did you know you can get a good, full-bodied whole seed mustard with bleu cheese? It is excellent. I got one with shallots, too, and one called, "Cowboy Mustard" and another by the same company that is, "Cowboy with a Kick" and it lives up to its name.  All in all I came away from the National Mustard Museum glad I'd spent so much time trying to find it, the people were quite nice, they have thousands of kinds of mustards and there are cautions throughout the store about how eating catsup instead of mustard can lead to everything from obesity to stupidity in children.

Next door to the Museum, is the Hubbard Street Diner and having not had lunch yet at 3:00 in the afternoon, I decided to test out the food. I was very glad I did, because they offer good, old fashioned diner hamburgers, and are known for their pies. I have no idea how many kids of pie, all  homemade, they offer. I asked about the difference between their French silk pie and the Mississippi mud. What I discovered (I hope my doctor doesn't read my blog or I'll get a scolding, because I've been bad) is that Mississippi mud, in the South, would be called a baked fudge pie. Oh my, oh my. To eat this, I gave up food for the rest of the day and will live on salads for awhile. But it was worth it. Rich, almost chewy baked fudge filling with real whipped cream, not sweet (to offset the filling, which probably was nothing more than butter, sugar and cocoa). That alone was worth the day and a half it took to find the Mustard Museum. Unfortunately the Diner doesn't offer any of the great mustards from next door.

Today I'm heading out to see some of Madison and tomorrow my Herb Society hosts will show me more of what this interesting city has to offer. It's still chilly here at night, and I've been bringing my plants inside each evening. I have some bay rum and allspice I've been saving for the "Eat Your Landscape" program at the Olbrich Botanic Garden on Saturday. I'm sure the plants are tired of being moved back and forth. But, just like they were pets, I give them a few hours of sunlight each day, some water and care. Right now they're sitting on the windowsill of my room at the Ruby Marie Hotel, enjoying the view of Lake Mendota.

I am in town for work and look forward to that, but like Matthew Morrison, the actor in Glee, I want to do it all!


A school that's not all doom and gloom

I've been on the road this week. First stop was the "Dilly of a Day" festival (celebrating dill, the Herb of the Year) in Carmel, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis. What a great event it was, sponsored by the Indianapolis Herb Society, a Unit of the Herb Society of America. Donna Frawley, of Frawley's Fine Hebary in Midland, Michigan, and I, were the main speakers. Donna gave a rousing cooking demonstration, with dill bread, dill spreads, dill butter and dill soup. My part was, "Sweet Dreams from the Garden" and I'm sorry you can't hear the flying frog song that Horace the Frog sang as the opening for my program (he's battery operated, travels with me and cracked everyone up as an introduction to how unpredictable dreams can be). This is an annual event for the Herb Society but was the biggest attendance they've ever had and they had to cut off reservations at 225 people. I sold my books and herbal wares and the folks treated me wonderfully. (More about that visit later, and the fascinating gardens and dairy I visited).

My next stop was a visit to the Four Winds School in Warrenville, Illinois, on the southwest side of Chicago. The folks there had contacted me months ago to see if I would be willing to come and teach a project for parent-volunteers on building wattle fencing around their playground. (I'm only guessing, but assume they found me because of my books on Bentwood Trellises, Fences, Gates and Arbors). I admit I thought they were crazy and have hesitated to agree to teach the project. Why would a school, even a small, private school, want a wattle fence? Did they just see The Lord of the Rings movie and decide they wanted wattle fences? To make them by hand, with volunteers, is both time consuming, and requires a lot of materials. But since Warrenville is somewhat between the Indianapolis speaking stop, just finished, and the next one, in Madison, Wisconsin, on the 23-24th, I decided to stop at the school and size up the project before I signed a contract.

What a surprise I had! I didn't know schools like this existed. It made me want to go back to school, or teach, or something. It reminded me of the kind of school I grew up attending, with a lot of opportunities to interract with the natural environment. Once I saw what they offered and the facility, I understood why they wanted wattle fencing. (The fence will primarily be visual, and an arbitrary boundary for the youngest kids).

A little bit about Four Winds School follows here, and you can read their purpose and mission statement on their website. It is part of the world-wide system of Waldorf Schools, which strives to encourage the development of the complete child, treating each as an individual. They have around 120 students, preschool through 8th grade. The school's administrator, Marianne Fieber, explained that a teacher follows the students through all the grades, meaning, the teacher you start with in first grade, is with you throughout your years at the school.

The curriculum is varied, giving the students a wide range of learning experiences, and as it says on their website: "we are deeply committed to providing education that encourages, captivates, challenges, and inspires your child’s mind, body, and spirit." And that includes the food they eat! I've heard so much about the bad food in schools, the nasty, greasy, salt-laden foods that most schools provide. Well, not at Four Winds! The students and parents order the child's meals, a month in advance. Two-Mothers Catering prepares the school lunches and delivers them, not in wasteful styrofoam, but delivered on washable, reusable metal plates. Individual student's meals can be vegan, vegetarian, with meat, with or without dairy. They are healthy, often organic, and delicious.

Marianne toured me around the grounds. There are typical playground items, along with very cool little playhouses and "cabins" scattered about. But one of the more impressive elements is, they have woods. There are dozens of pathways going into the woods on the 5 acres of school grounds (which is surrounded by housing and yards that back up to the school's woods). Get this - the kids, with supervision and permission - can go into the woods and build little dwellings. They can climb the trees! Teachers take small groups into little clearings where the kids sit on logs or the ground, and have story time. In the fall, in the evening, parents and teachers bring lanterns and take nature walks.

This is a school that lets kids learn and be creative. They have small garden plots where the kids learn to grow food plants. There's a sort of earth bermed amphitheater where the parents and teachers hold a festival in the summer. The spot also serves for sledding in winter, as well (how many schools do you know where kids are encourged to bring a sled to school?)

The teachers seem incredibly dedicated to the students. One teacher was using her break time to sit on the lawn and unwind some yarn in preparation for the next class's project. The students were engaged and involved in their projects. I peeked in at a music class and watched briefly as the children practiced on recorder-like instruments.

The proposed wattle fencing will, I believe, be a wonderful addition to the school ground. It is intended to loop around the playground equipment and is meant to lightly corral the youngest students, while the older ones will still be allowed access to the trails, kid-built stick dwellings and tree climbing areas. It was a necessary stopover for me, to actually see the materials they have and see what they envision for the project.

I came away excited about this little gem of a school that doesn't treat children as if they were herds of animals. This is a school that provides something other than an asphalt playground with a chain link fence around it. Here's a school that treats children like they deserve to be treated, as individuals, giving them a well-rounded education, good food, lots of exercise and the opportunity to develop their creativity and curiosity under caring guidance.

I look forward to working with the parents and volunteers this coming October and teaching them how to build wattle fencing to enhance the already amazing school facility.

Happy gardening tonight from Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, where spring is still beginning. (Oh, and in Indianapolis, morels were $50 a pound 2 days ago). 

 I've always fantasized about following the morel mushroom arrival all the way up to Canada and I'm almost accomplishing that with this trip.


Morels Mushrooms Have Arrived!

There were several questions from the previous post about how I eat chickweed, so I'll add the response here, as well in the recent comments section. One way of using chickweed is to gather it, along with dock and henbit and cook it all together with a bit of ham or bacon, just the typical "spring greens" dish. My favorite way of eating chickweed is to pick it young, before it gets tough. I look for the most tender stands and shear it off with scissors. I start with about 6 cups, loosely packed because it cooks down to a very small amount.

Then I wash the chickweed briefly and set it aside to drain. Into a saucepan, I chop up some already cooked bacon, about 3 slices, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and some chopped onion or scallions and saute those until the onions are tender. I add the chickweed and about a half cup of water and simmer it until tender. I drain off any excess water and sprinkle the greens with 2 or 3 teaspoons of one of the following: apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. All that's left is to toss and serve it as a side dish. Corn muffins are especially good with this, so are morel mushrooms.

Speaking of morels, ours have been late here, but neighbors are finding them, and ours are just beginning here. I was thinking as we ate our first "mess" (batch, or meal...in the Ozarks it's a "mess," as in "we had a mess o' greens for supper last night.") that morels are probably my favorite of all foods. In the favorites list, would be turkey and dressing, rhubarb pie, lobster, but probably the number 1 favorite would be morels.

They're good cooked several ways. When Gourmet magazine editors were here for lunch a few years back, I fixed morels a couple of ways for them. One way was to saute morels in butter until tender, then I added shredded Parmesan cheese, tossed that and served them on herb marinated, grilled chicken breasts. I believe the meal they photographed included some fried morels, too, a salad of spring garden greens heavily laced with violets and redbud flowers, a wood sorrel tart, I forget what else. But the centerpiece was the morels.

I supposes everyone who hunts morels, has their favorite way of preparing them. My mother always dipped the mushrooms in beaten egg then rolled them in flour or cornmeal. My friend, Billy Joe, always stuffs and bakes them. Here's my method, the one that is slightly addictive. (And by the way, if you find so many morels you can't eat them all, fix like the following recipe, then instead of cooking them, lay them out on a cookie sheet in the freezer; as soon they are frozen move to plastic storage bags. They'll keep for about 6 months. Take out what you need and cook as normal. It's the best way I've ever found of freezing morels and they taste almost like fresh).

Gather your morels, cut off the tough piece of stem, split the morel in half lengthwise and drop into a bowl of salted water. Soak for about 10 minutes, just to get the ants out, if there any. (Or, the ants taste just like the mushroom, I skip this sometimes, just looking over the mushrooms closely). Drain well.

Have ready a 1 gallon zip plastic bag, filled with 2 cups of cracker meal. Cracker meal is made by putting a sleeve or 2 of saltines in a food processor and pulse-blending until you have a fairly fine meal.

Also have on hand a small bowl of buttermilk. Not other milk, buttermilk, it works best. Pour about 3/4 inch of any light oil (canola, peanut, but not olive) into a small pan or skillet. Heat the oil until a crumb dropped in sizzles and spins. Don't get the oil hot enough to smoke, but enough to give a good sizzle when you drop a crumb in.

Dip several mushrooms in the buttermilk, dropping them one at a time into the plastic bag of cracker meal and shaking the bag. Lay them out on a cutting board, then begin dropping in 4 or 5 at a time in the hot oil. If the oil is too cool, the coating comes off, if it's too hot, the coating will burn before the mushroom cooks. You want the mushrooms to just sizzle around the edges. Continue dipping and coating the mushrooms while the first ones cook. Turn the cooking mushrooms over as soon as the bottom sides turn golden brown and cook about 2 minutes on the reverse side until browned. Drain on a pan or rack, but not on paper towels (which will cause the batter to lose it's crispness on the bottoms). Cook all of the mushrooms and serve while still hot. Get ready to be thankful it's spring.

Also ready now, are redbuds. Throw a handful of the flowers in your salad tonight. All redbuds are edible whether white redbud, 'Forest Pansy' patented redbud - any and all redbuds are good to eat. Redbud trees are cousins of peas, meaning they are a legume, and if you notice as the flowers begin to drop, pea pods appear where the blossoms were. Pick these young peapods when they're less than an inch long - the younger the more tender. Cook by dropping in boiling water, or saute in butter.

But the edible spring flower that may surprise you most, is......drum roll please..... LILACS. Yes, really, lilacs. Most people don't know that lilacs are edible and have wonderful flavor.

My friend, Cathy Wilkinson Barish, author of the out of print book (but still available), Edible Flowers, gave me permission to republish her recipe for Lilac sorbet from that book, in my Sensational Sorbets book (which is not out of print in case you want a copy). Here's Cathy's recipe, and this one keeps well for several weeks in the freezer. I use a Donvier sorbet maker, the kind you keep in the freezer until you're ready to use it, then pour the chilled liquid in, give it a turn of the crank about once a minute and in 15 minutes, you have perfect sorbet. I find Donviers at yard sales often. They're about $60 new, $5 used. They are nothing short of amazing because you can turn any kind of juice into a healthy dessert in mere minutes. Here's Cathy's recipe:

2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup lilac florerts, (flowers removed from the stems), coarsely chopped

Heat water in a stainless or non-aluminum saucepan. Add the sugar and flowers, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Bring liquid to a low boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, discarding flowers and chill in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 hours, or over night. Pour into ice cream maker or sorbet maker and freeze until firm. If not serving immediately, scoop sorbet in scoops on waxed paper covered baking sheet and freeze until firm. Remove from baking sheet and store in zip-plastic bags. Cathy suggests serving this in wine glasses with more lilac flowers scattered over the top.

My Sensational Salsas book also includes my recipe for Lavender-Violet sorbet as well as many more sorbets to make from flowers and herbs. You could have herb and flower sorbets all summer long.

Happy gardening!


Eat Your Weeds

I've been working on my program for the Madison, Wisconsin Herb Society, April 24, "Eat Your Landscape." For that program I'll focus on some of the surprising landscape plants useful for food, as well as a few native plants. I'll also put in a pitch for not using chemicals on the lawn. What good is an entire lawn of just boring, green grass, when all it does is cost you money for chemicals, and time mowing?

You may have heard me say before that I insist that the plants I grow to justify the space they occupy in my garden and landscape. Being edible is an instant justification. So the lawn, of just grass serves as open space, green grass and meditation time (me, sitting on the lawnmower). But I don't want just grass. I'd rather have a lawn full of wildflowers and edible plants, mixed in with the grass. Following here, are edible plants from my lawn. You might notice if I used lawn herbicides, none of these great spring flowers would exist.

This great little plant, chickweed, (first photo, above), is a money maker for the lawn chemical companies. You can buy the herbicide and spread it, and like magic, the plant turns yellow and dies. Mine does that, without chemicals. Once it blooms, as you see here, it sets seed, turns yellow and dies. Don't spray it. Mix it with some of the other plants that follow and cook like spinach. Or, just a plain, chickweed quiche. It also makes a good first-aid salve for insect bites.

The next plant, henbit, is the nightmare for those anal gotta-have-a-perfect, weed-free lawn guys. (Men, for some reason, when they retire, become obsessed about green grass in their front yard. I know men who physically dig individual dandelions, obsessed with just one "flaw" in their lawn. My theory is they've had a business, or worked for one, where they had control over people and events. Once retired, the only thing they really have control over, is their own lawn. The lawn reminds them, they've been put out to pasture!) Like chickweed, henbit dies on its own soon after flowering. Cook it with other greens and serve it with cornbread. It's best harvested before flowering for best flavor. Wild onions, seen here with both the tops and the bulbs, just adds seasoning. They're strong flavored but in a quiche, or a pot of greens, they're perfect. Those onions you buy in the store - those are just educated cousins of the wild ones.

To the pot of greens, you can add some dock,  seen below with the long, narrow leaves. Add that along with violet leaves. The flavor just gets better, the more you add. Dock should be picked when young, before it gets tough. The smaller, younger leaves are the best to use.

Then the dandelion, which isn't native to the U.S., but escaped here 2 or more centuries ago. An incredible wine can be made from the flowers, and I've described it as, "liquid sunshine." I gather the young leaves and add them to the greens pot, or to any of several dishes.

Fiddlehead ferns, though, are in a different category of wild plants. These tasty little morsels are too good for the greens pot. Rub off some of the fuzz with your thumb and forefinger, put a pat of butter in a saute pan and simmer for about 5 minutes, salt and serve. Or dip in a batter and fry. Stir fry in a dish with mushrooms and chicken. Make fritters. Or....fiddlehead soup, a real spring treat. Here's a recipe.

Then there are violets, the source for violet freezer jam I wrote about in the previous post. Whether it's the one pictured here, called, "Freckles" or the regular wild purple violets, the leaves are good enough to eat, too. Same uses as the plants above, greens, omelettes, quiches, pick the tenderest leaves and flowers for adding fresh to salads.

So there you have it, all the food from my lawn, all of which would not exist if I sprayed the lawn with chemicals that kill everything that isn't grass. I'll gather enough for several dishes before these helpful wildflowers are gone for the year. They justify their existence quite nicely, require no maintenance, and cost nothing to tend. All I have to do is look out the breakfast window at the lawn and be grateful for a non-perfect, wonderfully edible yard.

In my opinion, the very best field guide to edible wild plants, and the recipes for using them, is still Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook. You can still find copies here.

Save money and chemicals, let your lawn go native this year and you will be rewarded with something other than boring, green grass. Free meals and a beautiful, natural lawn. Happy gardening!


Violet Freezer Jam

At Long Creek Herb Farm we've been making a batch of violet jam every spring for the past 25 years or more. You may not think of violets when you think of a great tasting jam, but you should. This is really good, and it's become a tradition for us.

This afternoon Josh saw me tinkering with the lawnmower, getting ready for the first mowing of the year. I'd not even thought about the violets scattered all over the yard. I'd been focused all day on getting my PowerPoint "Eat Your Landscape" program ready (it's a digital slide show for folks who don't work with such things). The program is for the Madison, Wisconsin Herb Society, where I'll be speaking later this month. I'd even put in a slide of violets in the "edible weeds" section, but it still didn't dawn on me that when I started up the mower, I'd be mowing down a few thousand happy, purple violets.

Josh was thinking ahead and came inside with a basketful of violet blossoms. "Do you remember where Gay Jones' violet jam recipe is you published in The Ozarks Herbalist?" I did, and found it. The recipe was given to me by my friend, Gay, a gardener friend at Creek Bluff Farm near Bull Creek, MO. She'd seen my violet jelly recipe in an earlier Herbalist and thought I might like this one, too. I do, it's better than any violet jelly recipe I've used and she was happy for me to publish it. The recipe quickly became our favorite and we make a batch every spring and keep it in the freezer. Josh made the jam, I stayed out of the way (for a change).

For several years, 7 to be exact, I published a quarterly newsletter, The Ozarks Herbalist. In 1987 I bought my first Macintosh computer and began publishing my 14 page newsletter. I had subscribers in several states and it was through my writings there that I met a lot of great people. And it was that newsletter that provided the opportunity to write for The Herb Companion and The Ozarks Mountaineer magazines, which I still write for. The Ozarks Herbalist was intended to connect herb clubs, classes, events and people, and it accomplished that and more. I wrote, created the artwork, did the typesetting, layout, assembly and mailing. The experiences with that project is what prompted me to begin writing and publishing my herb books, something I continue to this day.

This jam's easy and quick to make, it only takes about 10 minutes, not counting the time picking the blossoms, and you keep it in the freezer. The flavor is concentrated, so you only use a little bit on biscuits, sugar cookies, fancy tea sandwiches (in case you're in an herb club). Don't waste it on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, though, it's too good and too subtle for that.

The ingredients you'll need:
 2 cups, loosely packed violet blossoms, without stems
Juice of 1 fresh lemon
3/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water (a second time)
1 pkg. Sure-Jel pectin

Directions: Put 3/4 cup water and the violet blossoms in a blender and blend well. Add the lemon juice and notice how the violet paste turns a richer purple as soon as the lemon juice hits the dull purple paste. Add the sugar and blend again to dissolve. Next, stir the package of pectin into the second 3/4 cup water in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil, continuing to boil hard for 1 minute. Pour the hot pectin into the blender with the violet paste. Blend again and pour into jars or small storage containers. Let cool, then cover with lids and store in the freezer. The jam will turn a deeper purple as it sets up. You can dip out the jam whenever you want some.

So that's what happened today, the first mowing of the lawn of the year, several hundred violet blossoms saved from in front of the mower, and a batch of violet freezer jam to celebrate springtime.

And, it tastes like spring, too! It's a tradition we like to keep.

Happy gardening!